Friday, September 21, 2018

ACLU to superintendents: Don’t interfere with student-led protests

Students all over Florida plan to walk out of their classes Wednesday to honor the victims of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County.

Many school leaders have announced they will empower students to speak and act, using the activity to stress the importance of civic participation. Some, however, have suggested that students might face negative consequences for disrupting a normal day of education.

The ACLU Florida has urged superintendents to allow the walkouts and protests to occur unimpeded. In a letter to the district officials, ACLU Florida executive director Howard Simon reminded that the lessons the students learn Wednesday will stick with them.

"Silencing the voices of your students just as they find them breeds the sort of cynicism that leads two thirds of our citizens to neglect their civic duty to exercise their right to vote," Simon wrote. "By not teaching them to engage in a healthy debate, you also risk furthering the divide in this nation that so painfully obstructs collaboration."

He asked superintendents to "resist suppressing" the students' spirit, and to allow them to participate in the demonstrations. Schools can and should set acceptable guidelines, he stated. But they should avoid going too far.

"Schools may regulate this speech to prevent disruption of education, but keep in mind that this sort of discussion is education and the students' ability to express their political viewpoints must be respected," Simon wrote.

He further encouraged school leaders to teach students how to make persuasive arguments, listen to opposing positions and remain respectful of those who disagree.

"The events planned for this week are a unique educational moment," he concluded. "We urge that you seize it."

The walkouts are planned for Wednesday morning. Thousands of students are expected to take part.

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